Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and other key Democrats Friday threw their support behind New York Sen. Charles Schumer to succeed him after Reid announced he will retire at the end of his term next year.
Reid, 75, divulged his preference for Schumer, 64, the third-ranked Senate Democrat, to take his place after reversing course and saying he won't mount what was expected to be a tough campaign for re-election in Nevada in 2016.
Schumer's path to become the top Senate Democrat was cleared when the second-ranked Democrat -- Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Schumer's rival and one-time roommate -- also backed him Friday.
"I am honored and humbled to have the support of so many of my colleagues and look forward to our Senate Democratic Caucus continuing to fight for the middle class," Schumer said in a statement.
Reid broke the news of his retirement in a video in which he said he had a chance to reflect after his New Year's Day accident while exercising that broke ribs and impaired vision in his right eye. "We have to make sure that the Democrats take control of the Senate again," Reid said. "And I feel it is inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources on me."
Reid followed up with a newspaper interview in which he endorsed Schumer.
"It's the caucus' decision, but Senator Reid thinks Senator Schumer has earned it," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in a statement.
Schumer now has 20 months to win re-election and shore up support among his Democratic caucus while trying to avoid any political upheavals that could derail his ascension.
Schumer potentially faces challenges from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), popular among women senators, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), promoted by left-leaning activists to counter Schumer and his Wall Street ties.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called Schumer to offer her support, and said in a statement, "He has been a tremendous partner to work with and would be an outstanding majority leader."
Reid, in an interview with The Washington Post, predicted Schumer would win without opposition. He said Warren, who also is strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could hold the caucus' feet to the fire on behalf of the populist wing.
"I think Schumer should be able to succeed me," Reid said in the interview, calling him "extremely smart."
Schumer became close with Reid as Reid became Senate Democratic leader and tapped Schumer as chairman of the party's campaign committee in 2005, and then as its policy and messaging director in 2009.
"Harry is one of the best human beings I've ever met. His character and fundamental decency are at the core of why he's been such a successful and beloved leader," Schumer said.
"He has left a major mark on this body, this country, and on so many who have met him, gotten to know him, and love him," he said.
Reid became Senate Democratic leader in 2005 and Senate majority leader for the next eight years in 2006.
In that post, Reid helped shepherd President Barack Obama's controversial Affordable Care Act into law. And as minority leader, he has flexed his muscle to block legislation as the Republican majority in Congress finds itself split.